When I was a little girl, I dreamed of leaving Birmingham, of getting on the first thing smoking and headed out to live among the busy streets and bright lights of New York City. It all started when I was a skinny, wide-eyed 9-year-old obsessing over the movie “Fame” and dreaming of starring on Broadway as a singer/dancer/actress spouting Macbeth to the tune of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” IKR
I felt that in a big city like New York I could be embraced, free to be my artsy, fartsy bohemian self. I was so enamored with all things NYC that my mom bought me a mug that read: NEW YORK. It was red and white with a black silhouette of the Big Apple’s skyline emblazoned across the front. I spent many days sipping hot chocolate, and even ice water, from it, hoping that the more sips I took the closer I’d get there.
Fast forward to today. I am still in Birmingham sans the singing/dancing/acting thing. I am a married, mommy of two with roots planted deep in Southern soil and with no immediate plans to leave.
Recently though, I realized something: With all my years of hoping to go “somewhere else,” I never really embraced being a Southerner. Don’t get me wrong, I can whip up a batch of hot, buttered grits like nobody’s business and “y’all” is a daily part of my lexicon, but I never truly took ownership of what being a Southerner means.
That was something for everyone else, not me. I LIVE in Alabama, but Southerners were the other folks.
I never felt an allegiance to Alabama or Auburn football teams. I don’t lose my mind when Lynyrd Skynrd strikes up a chord of “Sweet Home Alabama.” There had always been a mental block. I couldn’t find myself cheering for a region whose history is rooted in having oppressed people of color, even if that region is my address.
I always thought of the South as a place of unrequited love for black folks. The more we reached out for an embrace, the more it was rejected.
Now, hear me out, the South is filled with wonderful people of all races, people who demonstrate love like no other place on earth, but the history and the heritage for me was something I kept at bay.
The KKK threatened my grandmother. My mother was a maid. My aunts and uncles weren’t allowed to attend the nearby high school (my alma mater). A white woman called me a “nigger” while I was walking in the mall.
For that reason, when it came to the South, I was hesitant of giving my whole heart.
I want to change that, though. I want to heal and embrace my roots. I want to give the South a chance at a loving, meaningful relationship.
I have decided to spend the next year embracing, with a new heart, who I am: Marie Sutton, the Southerner – revisiting the uniqueness of the food, the people, the language. Now, let’s be clear, I won’t be waving a Confederate flag or sporting cowboy boots (unless they are really cute), but I want to explore what being a Southerner means for a black woman. That will probably mean redefining it.
And, this is the perfect year to do so. Fifty years ago, Birmingham was the site of a series of major pivotal battles in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. The people here fought, bled and died for freedom. They sang, preached and marched. They locked arms, stood defiant and bucked the system. I believe what happened in Birmingham helped to break the back of segregation in this country. What an awesome heritage.
The theme for this year’s Birmingham civil rights commemoration is “Fifty Years Forward.” Hmmm… Forward. That sounds good. That’s where I want to go.
So, starting today, it’s Marie Sutton Writes – living, loving and raising little ones in the South.
Alright y’all, let’s do this.